Letting go

Snowscape

I came across this poem, “Letting Go”, by my sister Christine Ruth Wiebe. It’s a Christmas poem and I know it’s after the holidays now, but reading the poem triggered some memories I want to share, and I want to share the poem, too.  It’s just a week after I published my book, BIRTH MOTHER.  Now that so many people are reading my book, I am starting to getting used to the idea of other people knowing the intimate details of that earlier time in my life. I just wish so much that I would have had the courage to share the story earlier. With my sister Christine, for example, and my other sister, my brother and my mother. Why did I hide my thoughts and feelings from them about this part of my life?  It was not until my second child’s thirteenth birthday that I told him about his brother — lost to us, out there somewhere in the world. Why didn’t I talk with my friends — my first husband — anyone?   Why did I lock my story up inside for decades?

Keeping a secret from your dearest ones cripples intimacy, and consumes enormous amounts of personal energy.

Christine passed away in 2000 without ever hearing more than the bare outlines of my experience, and the rest of the family also knew very little.  I am very happy, though, that she and the son I gave up for adoption had the chance to get to know one another, because he found me in 1996, when he was 27 years old.

And I am thankful that when my son found me, my heart had been opened and prepared for the reunion. This was thanks to the imagination, vision and encouragement of a special naturopathic doctor and two psychotherapists, retreats at Kripalu Retreat Center and Shalom Retreat Center, intensive journaling, yoga, and my husband’s love.

So here’s Christine’s poem:

LETTING GO

This is how it should be:
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city
to a great hill with untouched snow.
Sun warms the car.
I climb up the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
and the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.
But then we’re sailing
and I’m safe on a narrow strip of wood
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing
we could fall like this forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us
over and over and over.

– Christine Wiebe

September 19, 1985

Christine is online!

A self portrait of Christine

Visit the CMW Journal today!  The October issue of the online magazine published by the Center for Mennonite Writing  in Goshen, Indiana, came out on Tuesday, thanks to a great labor of love by editor Ann Hostetler. The journal features a wonderful selection of Christine’s poems,  a biography  and bibliography by my mother, Katie Funk Wiebe, an article by myself, and also great articles by friends Ellen Kroeker  of New Zealand and Jeff Gundy of Bluffton University. It also has an edited version of Chrstine’s book, How to Stay Alive, with its wonderful little sketches.

This publication means a great deal to my mother, for it gives Christine a lasting legacy.  Being online will mean many more readers will see Chrstine’s  poetry.

O Trees

O Trees

You have stood by me these two and a half years

and I still don’t know your names.

Nameless, you have steadfastly endured

beside me,  slender, tall, always reaching

you rise straight up from the earth

past the concrete, the glass, to the sky.

At night you brush the soft grey light

You even out the clouds.

While I sleep, you are the roost of angels

In the day you pull down the sun

You suck it out of the sky

You entice it to stay

You hold the light in your arms while I sleep.

My sister Christine Ruth Wiebe wrote this poem when she was living in Chicago, on Tuesday, February 12, 1991.

Ann Hostetler and my mother Katie Funk Wiebe are working on a special issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing focusing on Christine and Sylvia Bubalo, two writer/artists whose inspiring spiritual and artistic journeys deserve a wider audience.  Both struggled with chronic illness as well. Christine’s flavor was systemic lupus erythematosus.

I have been going through Christine’s letters and writings to find poems which she never showed to anyone, and this is one of them.   She also made the drawing, which was separate from the poem, but I joined them together here.  For the most part I have preserved her punctuation, but I am thinking that had she lived to publish this poem,  she probably would have added a few periods here and there.

In the blue willow plate

I have walked miles on narrow paths
to this place in the story where I sit
encircled by the willow’s green serenity,
I gaze across the pond at a gazebo
and recognize at last it is the one
in Mother’s plate, the one she placed
above the rest, “because it tells a story.”
I know now who I am
that messengers are on their way,
the lovers plan their flight
and I need wait for nothing
but the wind to ripple willow wands
and startle words from me
like birds surprised in flight.
Christine Wiebe

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This is another poem by my sister Christine, from The Voice of a Writer.  She wrote it as a gift for our mother on her 66th birthday. My sister Susan, my mom and I had a little discussion about the blue willow plate. Did we ever have one? If so, did Christine have it at some time? and who has it now?  I thought I might have it but when I looked at our blue plate, I realized it had a hunting scene, and my husband says it definitely didn’t come from Christine.  Susan remembered that as children our library did include a book called Blue Willow, which I still have…it’s on the bookshelf right in front of me.   It’s a lovely story by Doris Gates, first published in 1940, with awesome soft black and white illustrations. It was a Newbury Award runner-up in 1941.

I just opened the book, read the first line, and felt a familiar shiver of delight: “Janey Larkin paused on the top step of the shack and looked down at her shadow.”  I read and re-read this book when I was ten.  Janey’s one treasure is a blue willow plate, and the story takes us to the moment when she faces sacrificing this one treasure to gain something even more important to her and her family.

At last week’s Festschrift celebration for my mother, Katie Funk Wiebe, Susan read this poem to the audience.

Now that I think about it, our sister Christine’s life was a series of sacrifices, handled mostly gracefully.  She struggled to keep her body alive as she cultivated her ever-more lively spirit. When she was 45 years old her body finally wore out but her spirit is still zesty and with us.

Exploring

I find my mother’s old Dutch oven.
Heavy, black, spherical—
I imagine it looked like this
when father gave it to her 40 years ago.
Now as I study that black hole in my kitchen,
I feel conditions must be right
to slip through this density of memories
to their time, or at the very least,
by some chance tilting,
to snatch compressed messages
from that dark space before my birth.

Christine Wiebe – January 1989
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This is one of the poems by my sister which was included in the recently-published book about my mom, Katie Funk Wiebe.  The editors gracefully inserted a number of her poems into the chapter which I wrote, What would mother do?   The book is The Voice of a Writer: Honoring the Life of Katie Funk Wiebe, recently published by the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission, edited by Doug Heidebrecht and Valerie G. Rempel.